RDA as a training/education body? A certification body? Is there a mission/future here?

RDA Council Strategy Subcommittee - 8 November 2016


The RDA is building technical and sociological bridges to enable data sharing. It is a neutral, international forum which gathers participants from different countries and profiles and tackles a wide range of subjects in Working Groups and Interest Groups, focused on domain science, community needs, data referencing and sharing, data stewardship and services, base infrastructure, and partnership with other organisations. It is well understood that training and dissemination of new skills is a key question to enable Open Data and Open Science. Thus the question of whether RDA should engage in training and curriculum certification is often asked.

One first important role of RDA in the evolution of practices is in its Forum function. Participants in Groups discuss a lot about their practices and the lessons learnt during the formal face-to-face or teleconference meetings, and there is also lots of informal communication about these subjects during the Plenary meetings, which gather hundreds of participants. I personally brought back useful input for my own data repository or our disciplinary interoperability framework from each of the Plenary meeting, either from Group meetings or from unexpected discussion during coffee breaks or meals.

Two examples: I decided to submit an application to obtain the Data Seal of Approval for Strasbourg astronomical data centre CDS, which was already a member of the World Data System, following discussions on the constitution of the RDA/WDS Certification Interest Group at the first Plenary; the International Virtual Observatory Alliance, the astronomical interoperability framework, decided to include its Registry of Resources in EUDAT B2FIND following discussions and presentations at the fourth Plenary. I am certainly not the only one: participants in a Plenary tend to come back to a next one, to participate in the activities but also because they learn useful things from the meetings.

The role of the RDA in creating or improving skills is by far not limited to the personal interactions between its members. The RDA Groups produce recommendation and outputs, many of them outlining good practices on different aspects of scientific data sharing. These documents are disseminated through the RDA site, and many Groups also engage in dissemination activities towards specific stakeholder groups, or support adoption of their recommendations and outputs. There are also additional activities, for example at the regional level the prototype work on the Atlas of Knowledge in Europe, to explain the recommendations and put them in a wider context.

In addition, three of the currently 75 RDA Groups are engaged in activities relevant to education and training in basic data skills: the RDA/CODATA Summer Schools in Data Science and Cloud Computing in the Developing World Working Group, the Development of Cloud Computing Capacity and Education in Developing World Research Interest Group, and the Education and Training on handling of research data Interest Group. These Groups, which belong to the “community-needs focused” category, are engaged in defining training material and setting up prototype training schools, harnessing the wide variety of expertise and interests present in the RDA membership. The successful school organised in collaboration with CODATA, held in Trieste 1-12 August 2016, is the output of the RDA/CODATA Summer School Working Group. It raises lots of interest, as shown for instance during the recent Workshop on Improving Data Sharing and Re-use in and for Africa organised by RDA Europe and South African hosts on 2 October 2016 before the ICRI 2016 meeting in Cape Town. CODATA will likely take the lead in the organisations of the next workshops, as an activity relevant to its strategic plan. There is a common understanding between RDA and CODATA that RDA would focus as explained on training the data practitioners on the data sharing building blocks it develops, whereas its partner organisation CODATA would focus more on training researchers on data issues. Both organisations recognize that these are related efforts and collaborate to ensure both practitioners and researchers benefit fully.  The RDA fully engaged itself, through the common Working Group, in the enabling activity of setting up an initial workshop and its content. Engaging itself in training activities on data issues for researchers beyond this initial stage is out of its mission, and is rather relevant to organisations such as its partner CODATA and Universities, and to projects such as EDISON in Europe, with which RDA already established a liaison.

An analogy can be made with the RDA activity around certification of data repositories. This time partnership was established with the World Data System (WDS), involving also the Data Seal of Approval (DSA). RDA is the host of the Repository Audit and Certification DSA-WDS Partnership WG. DSA and WDS are international bodies which perform “basic level” certification of data repositories. The RDA provided a Forum to create the common WG, which fulfilled its aim to align the two initially different DSA and WDS certification frameworks, thus reducing the number of standards, a rare and notable thing! RDA enabled certification, but does not do certification. Both DSA and WDS are evolving their Certification frameworks to implement the RDA WG products.

In summary, education and training per se are not part of the RDA mandate. RDA as a Forum plays an important role to transform the practices of its members. Support and training about RDA findings and outputs are also essential, and regional and national RDA initiatives should play an important role in this domain in addition to the Groups which produced the output. In the frame of its aim to build bridges to enable data sharing, the RDA also engages, on a limited, case by case level, in prototyping education and training practices, taking advantage of the diversity of its membership, in particular in partnership with organisations which have a mandate in this domain. This is also in line with RDA aim to establish links with possible membership from less developed countries. The RDA will not operate schools and training programmes beyond this initial enabling phase of assessment and prototyping, but liaises with relevant organisations.

Drafted by Francoise Genova, RDA TAB Co-Chair and RDA Council Subcommittee Member

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  • Jamie Shiers's picture

    Author: Jamie Shiers

    Date: 16 Nov, 2016

    I think the fact that there are "bottom-up" groups working - successfully - on training shows that there is a role for RDA "the people" in this area.

     

    IMHO RDA "the senate" should support these activities but not feel that it has to own them. Collaborative support, not centralised control. (As I keep saying).

  • Stuart Chalk's picture

    Author: Stuart Chalk

    Date: 21 Nov, 2016

    Although not in the original charter for RDA, I think that education is a key component to the RDA ecosystem as the scientific communities that will be embracing the outputs of RDA need to be fully prepared for why they need to embrace them.  The best mechanism to 'grease the wheels', as it were, is to educate scientists in these areas with the technical background so they can translate to their community how important the recommendations/outputs are to the advancement of the scientfic endeavor.

  • Malcolm Wolski's picture

    Author: Malcolm Wolski

    Date: 12 Jan, 2017

    I agree that training and education has to be a key component of the RDA ecosystem and that the focus should be on collabroative support and facilitation rather than ownership of the problem.

  • Kevin Ashley's picture

    Author: Kevin Ashley

    Date: 13 Jan, 2017

    I think that there are a number of different problems being addressed by this statement. The problems, the views of the author on them, and the resulting recommendations aren't as clearly stated as they are in some of the other contemporary council sub-committee papers; that may well be intentional by the author.  However, one result is that it is harder to express firm agreement or disagreement with the statement as a whole or with particular parts.

    I'll start with one very clear question in the opening paragraph. Should RDA act to certify particular courses or curricula? My answer to that is definitely no. RDA is avoiding being a certification body in other areas and there is no reason why it should be one in this. However, its groups may well create the criteria that other bodies use to carry out such certification. That does seem like a more natural role for RDA and has analogies with what has come from the joint RDA/WDS work on repository certification, which is acknowledged in this document.

    I agree with the sentiments that engaging with RDA is an education in itself. This is worth pointing out, if only to make clear that formal training isn't the only way to acquire new skills. But of course this acknowledgment itself means that RDA is directly engaged in the business of skills development, even if it is by somewhat roundabout and unreliable means :)

    However, I'm less comfortable with the statements in the later paragraphs about work such as that coming from the RDA/CODATA group on summer schools. This appears to distance RDA from the operation of the schools and place it firmly in CODATA's domain. This may be the right route for this particular group but I don't think it's the right principle in general. I agree that RDA itself should not be in the business of delivering training, but what its groups, or the members of such groups, do in the course of their work is quite different. I think it would be acceptable if the summer schools were seen to be operated by the working group whilst it continued to exist. That is no different from a group developing a technical standard to operate and test software in services as part of the development and testing process. No one gets confused as to whether these are 'RDA' services or services being operated by working groups and/or their members. The same can be true for training material, which goes through analoguous design, development and testing phases although at much longer timescales than software generally does.

    There may also be a place for training to be part of future RDA events. Again, I'm not suggesting that this is operated by RDA itself, but RDA could facilitate its delivery by others (most likely its own members.) I'm slightly worried that this statement would make activities such as that difficult in future and I think that would be a disappointing outcome.

    As part of full disclosure, I should state that the development and delivery of training and other types of skills development has been part of my role for over 15 years at two different employers. It's a material source of income for the DCC which I now run. I don't think that's clouded the view I've expressed above but others may disagree.

     

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